On the same busy night when the _Lileth_ flashed her red signal and
Miss Gabrielle Rose arrived with a package of letters that screamed for
a Cotrell, two strangers invaded San Marco by means of the
eight-nineteen freight south. Frayed, fatigued and famished as they
were, it would hardly have been kind to study them as they strolled up
San Sebastian Avenue toward the plaza. But had you been so unkind, you
would never have guessed that frequently, in various corners of the
little round globe, they had known prosperity, the weekly pay envelope,
and the buyer’s crook of the finger summoning a waiter.
One of the strangers was short, with flaming red hair and in his eye
the twinkle without which the collected works of Bernard Shaw are as
sounding brass. He twinkled about him as he walked–at the bright
lights and spurious gaiety under the spell of which San Marco sought to
forget the rates per day with bath.
“The French,” he mused, “are a volatile people, fond of light wines and
dancing. So, it would seem, are the inhabitants of San Marco. White
flannels, Harry, white flannels. They should encase that leaning tower
of Pisa you call your manly form.”
The other–long, cadaverous, immersed in a gentle melancholy–groaned.
“Another tourist hothouse! Packed with innocents abroad, and everybody
bleeding ’em but us. Everything here but a real home, with chintz
table-covers and a cold roast of beef in the ice-chest. What are we
doing here? We should have gone north.”
“Ah, Harry, chide me no more,” pleaded the little man. “I was weak, I
know, but all the freights seemed to be coming south, and I have always
longed for a winter amid the sunshine and flowers. Look at this fat
old duffer coming! Alms! For the love of Allah, alms!”
“Shut up,” growled the thin one. “Save your breath till we stand hat
in hand in the office of the local newspaper. A job! Two jobs! Good
lord, there aren’t two newspaper jobs in the entire South. Well–we
can only be kicked out into the night again. And perhaps staked to a
meal, in the name of the guild in which we have served so long and
“Some day,” said the short man dreamily, “when I am back in the haunts
of civilization again, I am going to start something. A Society for
Melting the Stone Hearts of Editors. Motto: ‘Have a heart–have a
heart!’ Emblem, a roast beef sandwich rampant, on a cloth of linen.
Ah, well–the day will come.”
They halted in the plaza. In the round stone tub provided, the town
alligator dozed. Above him hung a warning sign:
“Do not feed or otherwise annoy the alligator.”
The short man read, and drew back with a tragic groan.
“Feed or otherwise annoy!” he cried. “Heavens, Harry, is that the way
they look at it here? This is no place for us. We’d better be moving
on to the next town.”
But the lean stranger gave no heed. Instead he stepped over and
entered into earnest converse with a citizen of San Marco. In a moment
he returned to his companion’s side.
“One newspaper,” he announced. “The _Evening Chronicle_. Suppose the
office is locked for the night–but come along, let’s try.”
“Feed or otherwise annoy,” muttered the little man blankly. “For the
love of Allah–alms!”
They traversed several side streets, and came at last to the office of
the _Chronicle_. It was a modest structure, verging on decay. One man
sat alone in the dim interior, reading exchanges under an electric lamp.
“Good evening,” said the short man genially. “Are you the editor?”
“Uh, huh,” responded the _Chronicle_ man without enthusiasm, from under
his green eye-shade.
“Glad to know you. We just dropped in–a couple of newspaper men, you
know. This is Mr. Harry Howe, until recently managing editor of the
Mobile _Press_. My own name is Robert O’Neill–a humble editorial
writer on the same sheet.”
“Uh, huh. If you had jobs for God’s sake why did you leave them?”
“Ah, you may well ask.” The red-haired one dropped, uninvited, into a
chair. “Old man, it’s a dramatic story. The chief of police of Mobile
happened to be a crook and a grafter, and we happened to mention it in
the _Press_. Night before last twenty-five armed cops invaded the
peace and sanctity of our sanctum. Harry and I–pure accident–landed
in the same general heap at the foot of the fire-escape out back. And
here we are! Here we are!”
“My newspaper instinct,” said the _Chronicle_ man, “had already enabled
me to gather that last.”
Sarcasm. It was a bad sign. But blithely Bob O’Neill continued.
“Here we are,” he said, “two experienced newspaper men, down and out.
We thought there might possibly be a vacancy or two on the staff of
The editor threw off his eye-shade, revealing a cynical face.
“Boys,” he said, “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I’ve been
running this alleged newspaper for two long dreary years, and this
laugh you’ve just handed me is the first I’ve had during that time.
Vacancies! There is one–a big one. See my pocket for particulars.
Two years, boys. And all the time hoping–praying–that some day I’d
make two dollars and sixty cents, which is the railroad fare to the
Howe and O’Neill listened with faces that steadily grew more sorrowful.
“I’d like to stake you to a meal,” the editor went on. “But a man’s
first duty is to his family. Any burglar will tell you that.”
“I suppose,” ventured O’Neill, most of the flash gone from his manner,
“there is no other newspaper here?”
“No, there isn’t. There’s a weird thing here called the _San Marco
Mail_–a morning outrage. It’s making money, but by different methods
than I’d care to use. You might try there. You look unlucky. Perhaps
they’d take you on.”
He rose from his chair, and gave them directions for reaching the
“Good night, boys,” he said. “Thank you for calling. You’re the first
newspaper men I’ve seen in two years, except when I’ve looked in the
glass. And the other day I broke my looking-glass. Good night, and
bad luck go with you to the extent of jobs on the _Mail_.”
“Cynic,” breathed O’Neill in the street. “A bitter tongue maketh a
sour face. I liked him not. A morning outrage called the _Mail_.
Sounds promising–like smallpox in the next county.”
“We shall see,” said Howe, “that which meets our vision. Forward,
“The alligator and I,” muttered O’Neill, “famished, perishing. For the
love of Allah, as I remarked before, alms!”
In the dark second-floor hallway where the _Mail_ office was suspected
of being, they groped about determinedly. No sign of any nature
proclaimed San Marco’s only morning paper. A solitary light, shining
through a transom, beckoned. Boldly O’Neill pushed open the door.
To the knowing nostrils of the two birds of passage was wafted the odor
they loved, the unique inky odor of a newspaper shop. Their eyes
beheld a rather bare room, a typewriter or two, a desk. In the center
of the room was a small table under an electric lamp. On this table
was a bottle and glasses, and at it two silent men played poker. One
of the men was burly and bearded; the other was slight, pale, nervous.
From an inner room came the click of linotypes–lonesome linotypes that
seemed to have strayed far from their native haunts.
The two men finished playing the hand, and looked up.
“Good evening,” said O’Neill, with a smile that had drawn news as a
magnet draws steel in many odd corners. “Gentlemen, four newspaper men
meet in a strange land. I perceive you have on the table a greeting
The bearded man laughed, rose and discovered two extra glasses on a
“Draw up,” he said heartily. “The place is yours. You’re as welcome
“Thanks.” O’Neill reached for a glass. “Let me introduce ourselves.”
And he mentioned his own name and Howe’s.
“Call me Mears,” said the bearded one. “I’m managing editor of the
_Mail_. And this is my city editor, Mr. Elliott.”
“Delighted,” breathed O’Neill. “A pleasant little haven you have found
here. And your staff–I don’t see the members of your staff running in
“Mr. O’Neill,” said Mears impressively, “you have drunk with the staff
of the _Mail_.”
“You two?” O’Neill’s face shone with joy. “Glory be–do you hear
that, Harry? These gentlemen all alone on the premises.” He leaned
over, and poured out eloquently the story of the tragic flight from
Mobile. “I call this luck,” he finished. “Here we are, broke, eager
for work. And we find you minus a–”
O’Neill stopped. For he had seen a sickly smile of derision float
across the face of the weary city editor. And he saw the bearded man
shaking his great head violently.
“Nothing doing,” said the bearded man firmly. “Sorry to dash your
hopes–always ready to pour another drink. But–there are no vacancies
here. No, sir. Two of us are plenty and running over, eh, Bill?”
“Plenty and running over,” agreed the city editor warmly.
Into their boots tumbled the hearts of the two strangers in a strange
land. Gloom and hunger engulfed them. But the managing editor of the
_Mail_ was continuing–and what was this he was saying?
“No, boys–we don’t need a staff. Have just as much use for a manicure
set. But–you come at an opportune time. _Wanderlust_–it tickles the
soles of four feet to-night, and those four feet are editorial feet on
the _Mail_. Something tells us that we are going away from here.
Boys–how would you like our jobs?”
He stared placidly at the two strangers. O’Neill put one hand to his
“See me safely to my park bench, Harry,” he said. “It was that drink
on an empty stomach. I’m all in a daze. I hear strange things.”
“I hear ’em, too,” said Howe. “See here”–he turned to Mears–“are you
offering to resign in our favor?”
“The minute you say the word.”
“Both of you?”
“Believe me,” said the city editor, “you can’t say the word too soon.”
“Well,” said Howe, “I don’t know what’s the matter with the place, but
you can consider the deal closed.”
“Spoken like a sport!” The bearded man stood up. “You can draw lots
to determine who is to be managing editor and who city editor. It’s an
excellent scheme–I attained my proud position that way. One condition
I attach. Ask no questions. Let us go out into the night unburdened
with your interrogation points.”
Elliott, too, stood. The bearded man indicated the bottle. “Fill up,
boys. I propose a toast. To the new editors of the _Mail_. May
Heaven bless them and bring them safely back to the North when
Florida’s fitful fever is past.”
Dizzily, uncertainly, Howe and O’Neill drank. Mr. Mears reached out a
great red hand toward the bottle.
“Pardon me–private property,” he said. He pocketed it. “We bid you
good-by and good luck. Think of us on the choo-choo, please. Riding
“But–see here–” cried O’Neill.
“But me no buts,” said Mears again. “Nary a question, I beg of you.
Take our jobs, and if you think of us at all, think of gleaming rails
and a speeding train. Once more–good-by.”
The door slammed. O’Neill looked at Howe.
“Fairies,” he muttered, “or the D.T’s. What is this–a comic opera or
a town? You are managing editor, Harry. I shall be city editor. Is
there a city to edit? No matter.”
“No,” said Howe. He reached for the greasy pack of cards. “We draw
for it. Come on. High wins.”
“Jack,” announced Mr. O’Neill.
“Deuce,” smiled Howe. “What are your orders, sir?”
O’Neill passed one hand before his eyes.
“A steak,” he muttered. “Well done. Mushroom sauce. French fried
potatoes. I’ve always dreamed of running a paper some day. Hurry up
with that steak.”
“Forget your stomach,” said Howe. “If a subordinate may make a
suggestion, we must get out a newspaper. Ah, whom have we here?”
A stocky, red-faced man appeared from the inner room and stood
“Where’s Mears and Elliott?” he demanded.
“On a train, riding far,” said O’Neill. “I am the new managing editor.
What can I do for you?”
“You can give me four columns of copy for the last page of to-morrow’s
_Mail_,” said the stocky man calmly. “I’m foreman of something in
there we call a composing-room. Glad to meet you.”
“Four columns,” mused O’Neill. “Four columns of what?”
The foreman pointed to a row of battered books on a shelf.
“It’s been the custom,” he said, “to fill up with stuff out of that
“Thanks,” O’Neill answered. He took down a book. “We’ll fix you up in
ten minutes. Mr. Howe, will you please do me two columns
on–er–mulligatawny–murder–mushrooms. That’s it. On mushrooms.
The life-story of the humble little mushroom. I myself will dash off a
column or so on the climate of Algeria.”
The foreman withdrew, and Howe and O’Neill stood looking at each other.
“Once,” said O’Neill, “I ran an editorial page in Boston, where you can
always fill space by printing letters from citizens who wish to rewrite
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and do it right. But I never struck
anything like this before.”
“Me either,” said Howe. “Mushrooms, did you say?”
They sat down before typewriters.
“One thing worries me,” remarked O’Neill. “If we’d asked the president
of the First National Bank for jobs, do you suppose we’d be in charge
“Write, man, write,” said Howe. The clatter of their fingers on the
keys filled the room.
They looked up suddenly ten minutes later to find a man standing
between them. He was a little man, clad all in white, suit, shoes,
stockings. His sly old face was a lemon yellow, and his eyes suggested
lights flaming in the dark woods at night.
“Beg pardon,” said the little man.
“Ah, and what can we do for you?” inquired O’Neill.
“Nothing. Mr. Mears? Mr. Elliott?”
“Gone. Vamosed. You are now speaking to the managing editor of the
“We are very busy. If you’ll just tell me what you want–”
“I merely dropped in. I am Manuel Gonzale, owner of the _Mail_.”
“Good lord!” cried O’Neill.
“Do not be disturbed. I take it you gentlemen have replaced Mears and
Elliott. I am glad. Let them go. You look like bright young men to
me–quite bright enough. I employ you.”
“Thanks,” stammered the managing editor.
“Don’t mention it. Here is Madame On Dit’s column for to-morrow. It
runs on the first page. As for the rest of the paper, suit yourselves.”
O’Neill took the copy, and glanced through it.
“Are there no libel laws down here?” he asked.
“The material in that column,” said the little man, his eyes narrowing,
“concerns only me. You must understand that at once.”
“The Madame writes hot stuff,” ventured O’Neill.
“I am the Madame,” said the owner of the _Mail_ with dignity.
He removed the copy from O’Neill’s hand, and glided with it into the
other room. Scarcely had he disappeared when the door was opened
furiously and a panting man stood inside. Mr. Henry Trimmer’s keen eye
surveyed the scene.
“Where’s Mears–Elliott?” he cried.
“You’re not the cashier, are you?” asked O’Neill with interest.
“Don’t try to be funny,” roared Trimmer. “I’m looking for the editor
of this paper.”
“Your search is ended,” O’Neill replied. “What is it?”
“You mean you– Say! I’ve got a front-page story for to-morrow’s
issue that will upset the town.”
“Come to my arms,” cried O’Neill. “What is it?”
“The real Lord Harrowby has been kidnaped.”
O’Neill stared at him sorrowfully.
“Have you been reading the Duchess again?” he asked. “Who the hell is
“Do you mean to say you don’t know? Where have you been buried alive?”
Out of the inner room glided Manuel Gonzale, and recognizing him, Mr.
Trimmer poured into his ear the story of George’s disappearance. Mr.
Gonzale rubbed his hands.
“A good story,” he said. “A very good story. Thank you, a thousand
times. I myself will write it.”
With a scornful glance at the two strangers, Mr. Trimmer went out, and
Manuel Gonzale sat down at his desk. O’Neill and Howe returned to
their encyclopedic despatches.
“There you are,” said Gonzale at last, standing. “Put an eight column
head on that, please, and run it on the front page. A very fine story.
The paper must go to press”–he looked at a diamond studded watch–“in
an hour. Only four pages. Please see to the make-up. My circulation
manager will assist you with the distribution.” At the door he paused.
“It occurs to me that your exchequer may be low. Seventy-five dollars
a week for the managing editor. Fifty for the city editor. Allow
me–ten dollars each in advance. If you need more, pray remind me.”
Into their hands he put crinkling bills. And then, gliding still like
the fox he looked, he went out into the night.
“Sister,” cried O’Neill weakly, “the fairies are abroad to-night. I
hear the rustle of their feet over the grass.”
“Fairies,” sneered Howe. “I could find another and a harsher name for
“Don’t,” pleaded O’Neill. “Don’t look a gift bill in the treasury
number. Don’t try to penetrate behind the beyond. Say nothing and let
us eat. How are you coming with the mushroom serial?”
An hour later they sent the paper to press, and sought the grill room
of the Hotel Alameda. As they came happily away from that pleasant
spot, O’Neill spied a fruit-stand. He stopped and made a few purchases.
“Now,” said Howe, “let us go over and meet the circulation manager.
Here–where are you going, Bob?”
“Just a minute,” O’Neill shouted back. “Come along, Harry. I’m going
over to the plaza! I’m going over to feed that alligator!”